There are many veterans that live in our district, and their issues are important to me and to my work in Congress.
The sacrifices made by America’s veterans truly place them among our nation’s greatest heroes. These men and women have given so much of themselves for our country, and I am proud to represent the many thousands of veterans who call Rhode Island home. It is Congress’s responsibility to provide access to quality benefits, assistance programs, and medical treatment upon separation from the Armed Forces, and I am working to ensure that all of our veterans receive the benefits they were promised and the recognition they deserve.
Funding Veterans Programs
Over the last several years, I have supported historic increases in funding for the Department of Veterans Affairs. Since Fiscal Year 2006, VA funding has increased by more than 71 percent. These important increases not only reflect Congress’s recognition of our responsibility to care for our veterans, but also the need to honor our commitments to a new generation of veterans returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. I will continue to support full funding for the VA and continue working to improve its efficiency.
Housing for Veterans
In these difficult economic times, access to safe and affordable housing is serious concern. This is particularly true for disabled veterans, who often experience additional challenges in their transition back to civilian life. To help address this problem, I will soon be introducing the Veterans Homebuyer Accessibility Act, which will make it easier for disabled veterans, who have served with distinction, to perform the necessary adaptive modifications to their homes so they are able to move around comfortably and live independently. It will also help veterans purchase a home as they move back to our communities. While this is no substitute for the disability benefits owed though the VA, it is concrete action we can take now to make our veterans’ transition eminently easier.
Caring for Our Veterans
Mental Health: Since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, more than 2.3 million servicemembers have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and over 1 million of them (43%) have been deployed more than once. After spending extended periods of time away from their families in hostile environments, returning servicemembers have been particularly vulnerable to the effects of mental illnesses, including anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). While many of these veterans have accessed mental health care through the VA health care system, nearly 1 million veterans from various wars are waiting to hear from the VA regarding their claim for disability. Many veterans have been forced to seek care outside the VA system or have forgone treatment altogether due to the stigma of mental illness. I was proud to be an original cosponsor of the Joshua Omvig Veterans Suicide Prevention Act, which was passed into law in 2007 and addresses the serious problem of suicide among veterans suffering from PTSD and of the special needs of veterans at high risk for depression. For more information or help, you may visit the Veterans CrisisLine site, or call 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 for veterans.
Spinal Cord and Traumatic Brain Injuries: Since 2000, the VA has treated over 240,000 veterans for traumatic brain injuries (TBI) that they suffered in the line of duty. In fact, TBI is widely considered the signature wound of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Advancing research into regenerating and repairing nervous system damage has shown real promise, giving hope to our military service members and veterans who have sustained these injuries in combat. I have been proud to introduce and support measures that have greatly increased the level and scope of research into TBI and spinal cord injuries, as well as other combat-related conditions, and I will continue to fight for research until we are able to repair these debilitating injuries that affect so many of our veterans.
A G.I. Bill for the 21st Century
Just as Congress passed the GI Bill of Rights in 1944 to extend educational resources to veterans returning home after serving in World War II, Congress has acted to extend educational support to these brave men and women who have honorably served our country in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was proud to cosponsor and support the passage of the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act, which allows servicemembers returning from Iraq or Afghanistan to qualify for educational assistance based on the amount of time served. Those serving three years on active duty are now receiving benefits covering the costs of a four-year education, based on the costs of the most expensive in-state public school.
I have been proud to support the expansion of “concurrent receipt” and the elimination of the SBP-DIC offset. Concurrent receipt allows veterans to receive their full retirement pay rather than having it reduced by the amount they get in disability pay. The SBP-DIC offset requires that benefits received under the Survivor Benefits Plan (SBP) be offset by the amount of Dependency and Indemnity Compensation (DIC) received. I believe these brave veterans and their families have earned both types of compensation and should be allowed to receive the full payment amounts. While progress has been made in recent years, I will continue working with my colleagues to find a responsible way to end the current policy and to provide full payment to veterans and their families in a fiscally responsible manner.